We’re sad to announce that legendary singer, dancer, actress and outspoken diva Eartha Kitt died on Christmas Day at the age of 81. How fitting for someone who was best known for her song “Santa Baby.” Her iconic purr as Catwoman on the campy 1960s Batman TV series, her sense of outrage against the Vietnam war and her fierce advocacy for GLBT rights and HIV/AIDS prevention will always endear her to our hearts. Will we ever have anyone quite like her again?
I had the pleasure of socializing with Eartha Kitt when I attended a benefit fundraiser for the Houston Opera in the early 1990s. After seeing her vivacious, incredible performance of most of her hit songs I somehow managed to crash a reception for Eartha where I spoke with her, at her insistence, in Spanish. I also watched as many of her long-time fans shared with her what she meant to them.
After that encounter, I would write to her and she would often write back, encouraging me to use condoms as she “wouldn’t anything to happen to my babies.”
Although from humble origins in South Carolina, a young woman Eartha Kitt auditioned for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and then toured Europe and the Middle East extensively. Her career as a singer and dancer really took off in 1950, when she was cast in the stage adaption of Faust by Orson Welles, who discovered her in a cabaret show in Paris.
Orson Welles bit Eartha on the lip once while sharing a passionate kiss onstage. He later explained to her that “I had to [bite you.] You’re the most exciting woman in the world.”
Shortly after Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman won Oscars, she expressed satisfaction that black performers “have more of a chance now than we did then to play larger parts” in an online discussion at Washingtonpost.com in March 2005,
But she also said: “I don’t carry myself as a black person but as a woman that belongs to everybody. After all, it’s the general public that made (me) — not any one particular group. So I don’t think of myself as belonging to any particular group and never have.”
Because of her outspoken nature, Eartha got into hot water with Lady Bird Johnson and the FBI when she was invited to a Whitehouse Ladies luncheon. When asked by the First Lady “Why is there so much juvenile delinquency in the streets of America?” When it came to her turn to speak, Eartha said: “Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason.” Re/Search #14: Incredibly Strange Music, Volume I (Re/Search ; 14)
After the incident Eartha was mostly banned from working in clubs in America and spend much of her time performing in Europe. Here is a photo of her taken by Jason Smith in Chicago in the late 90s.
During the late 80s and early 90s Eartha started performing again at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, where in my opinion, she recorded her best album “In Person at the Plaza.” You can buy it through